1. Not all fats are bad
American lobbyists propelled the rise of the ‘low-fat’ industry, making us believe that all fats are bad. So people started opting for low-fat versions of all foods. Butter got replaced with margarine and so on. It is only in the past two decades that studies have shown how misplaced this belief is. Fats are required by the body to perform certain functions. You only need to choose your fats well and make sure they are within the required limit. US-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that you should consume between 20-35 percent of your daily calories from dietary fat. Trans fats are a strict no and you should avoid them as far as possible. Certain saturated fats are good and of course we all know about the benefits of consuming unsaturated fats like Omega 3, etc. So, leave that low-fat spread and spread some butter on your toast instead. Desi ghee can do wonders for your health too, as long as you watch how much of it you consume.
2. Portion control
This is perhaps the most critical tip of all. Eat everything but eat smaller portions. I am a food critic, and often have to taste 10-18 course meals. However, it doesn’t mean that I finish each course. A small portion of each is enough. The same is true for regular meals as well. Increase the portion size of the nutritious food on your plate like vegetables or dal, and cut your dessert by half. Indulge in whatever catches your fancy, just not the entire portion.
3. Choose your grains
The no-carb movement is as harmful for your health as is the removal of any one food group. Like fats, not all carbs are bad. All you need to do is pick the ones which are not processed and have not been stripped off their nutrition. Love pasta and pizza? Choose quinoa pasta or have a whole-wheat thin crust pizza. Pearl barley, dalia, red rice, buckwheat flour, the options are plenty. And with the retail revolution, everything is now easily available, right at your doorstep.
4. Cook from scratch
As tempting as the processed foods aisle is in the supermarket, give it a miss. Most processed and canned foods contain copious amounts of sodium/ sugar and preservatives, all of which play havoc with your health. Want to toss a pasta, just make some tomato basil sauce from scratch. It is super easy, doesn’t take too long and retains the nutritious elements of the ingredients without adding in undesirable preservatives.
5) Skip the bread
An extension of the point above, this is a conclusion that I came to a few months back. Early last year, a study found that 84% of 38 common brands of pre-packaged breads tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate. Both these additives have been banned in many countries across the world due to their hazardous effects on the body and for being potential carcinogens. This fuelled me to research further and I realised that the mass-produced breads we buy off the shelf do more damage than good. Since then, my breakfast rarely consists of bread, it is more about parathas (with just a drop of oil), poha or dishes that can be cooked from scratch at home. This may seem inconvenient, but the health benefits are manifold.
6. Smaller plates
To help you with your portion control, the first step may be to get smaller plates. Food ladled onto smaller plates seems more than the same amount of food on a larger plate, thus tricking the brain. It will also help you eat as much as your body actually needs, and not force you to eat excessively, only to finish off the food on your plate.
7. Meal timings
Stick to regimented meal timings as they help fine-tune your metabolism. Breakfast should be within an hour of waking up, and dinner ideally before sunset (and at least 2-3 hours before you sleep). Try to eat food at the same time every day, so that the body can tell you when it is hungry and when it has had enough.
8. Breakfast like a king
I’m sure you have heard this before but it remains true even today. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and have dinner like a pauper. Dinner should be your lightest meal of the day as your body is preparing for slumber. However, when you wake up in the morning, you need all the energy you can find to get you through the activities of the day, without feeling fatigued. Skipping breakfast is ill-advised, no matter how busy you are.
9. Sugar is the new smoking
If you have a sweet tooth, this one is going to hurt. But excessive refined sugar is terrible for your health and piles on unnecessary calories. It is not only about desserts and your daily tea/ coffee (which you should cut back on or replace with green tea). Hidden sugars lie in unexpected places like cereals, tomato ketchup, packaged foods, etc. Know where to find them and make smart alternative choices.
10. Healthy food is not equal to salads
In conclusion, it is important to understand that healthy is not equal to boring or plain jane. I eat healthy all the time, yet my meals rarely (if ever) only consist of a salad. Healthy eating is only about making a choice at every step, while choosing ingredients, in the cooking techniques you use, in the way you consume your food and how much of it you do. After you practice healthy eating for a while, it comes naturally and becomes a part of you. And the effects will be there for you and everyone else to see.